University of Lisbon, Portugal, 1-4 September 2019
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Panel 302: EU-Russian Relations: Structures, Actors, Issues III
EU-Russian Relations: Structures, Actors, Issues III
Russia is the EU’s third trade partner and therefore, notwithstanding the deleterious state of relations since 2014, remains an important economic partner (especially when it comes to energy). It is also an essential partner for any security debates in wider Europe as well as for political cooperation in the continent and globally. Events since 2014, however, have brought EU-Russia relations to a low point, to the extent that the EU no longer considers Russia a strategic partner. It is not only the EU that is grappling with the question of what kind of relationship is possible with Russia today, of course. Russia has challenged the key premises of the world order, particularly following the 2014 events in Ukraine, bringing it into collision also with many key actors within the United States. It is therefore unsurprising that Russia’s resurgent foreign policy should figure so highly on the agenda of so many European and international actors but most particularly for the EU. For these reasons, Routledge commissioned the writing and publication of a handbook on EU-Russia Relations. Here, authors of chapters in the forthcoming volume, Handbook on EU-Russian Relations: Structures, Actors, Issues, will talk through their research and findings. This, the last of three panels, shifts tack to look at the relations between actors at the societal level, considering issues such as Human Rights, information and propaganda and their impact on civil society in the wider Europe, including, of course, Russia.
Presentations of the Symposium
Human Rights Agenda in EU-Russia Relations: from Political Dialogue towards ‘The Most Politicised Dialogue Ever’
EU-Russia cooperation in human rights presents a clear disparity of priorities given by two actors. Cooperation has been important for the EU and it was reflected in strategic documents towards Russia, while officially Russia has participated in the cooperation in ritualistic way. Meanwhile Russian and international NGOs have been actively involved in implementing projects with the support of EU funds. Since 2012, officially Russia has actively used the human rights agenda to challenge western democracies as a model in human rights protection and chased NGOs working in Russia as foreign agents.
Today, Russia’s commitment to democracy and human rights is at the worst crisis ever. The EU imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014, but continues to support Russian human rights and civil society projects. Russia annexation of Crimea in March 2014 led to suspension of the country from voting in Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (CoE) in April 2014. An unsuccessful attempt by the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE in 2016 caused Russia's partial rejection of its payment to the CoE budget in 2017. On 11 October 2018 General Secretary of CoE Thorbjørn Jagland warned that Russia non-payment could cause the country to be ejected from the organisation.
Most Western observers and scientists regard current Russia as an anti-liberal polity and even society that rejects democratic values and the human rights agenda. However, study of different layers of EU-Russia interaction in the area of human rights presents a more complicated and nuanced vision of the institutional, official, political and societal stands.
Using Social Media: Dynamics in the EU-Russia Relationship
Relations between Russia and Brussels and Russia and many EU member states continue on a downward trajectory that many trace from the conflict in Ukraine that began in 2014 but which has longer and deeper roots, especially at the level of political elites. Increasingly, however, lines of difference are being drawn at the level of people-to-people contacts, affecting the perceptions of ordinary people on all sides of the relationships. This is, this paper argues, not least, because of the information war that is ongoing between Russia and the EU, with social media both a battleground and tool. Beginning with this thesis, the paper moves to set out the nature of the information war, distinguishing between misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. It identifies the main sites of activity, the means employed and the primary targets, as well as the ways in which social media companies facilitate these actors by failing in their duties of care but equally the dangers inherent in them doing so. Arguing that this is an area characterised by accusation, counter-accusation, whataboutism and demands for incontrovertible truth, the paper sets out the difficulties in establishing responsibility and what this means for analysis and policy - but also the teaching of EU-Russia relations.
The Persistence of Conflict and Cooperation in EU-Russia Relations: The Brexit Conundrum?
Loughborough London University, United Kingdom
Throughout the post-Cold War period Russia and the EU have engaged in a never ending dance, swaying simultaneously towards both conflict and cooperation. The persistence of the conflict/cooperation dichotomy was largely predicated on the complex nature of EU foreign policy, where member states have a wide range of (very often contradictory) interests when it comes to Russia. At the same time, the Kremlin has played on these divisions among EU member states and has tried to get as many benefits as possible from the EU without making too many concessions. Indeed this trend was somewhat halted by the recent Ukraine crisis, as the surprising level unity among the member states when it comes to sanctions or the crisis in Ukraine seems to have shifted the balance towards conflict. However, cooperation has persisted both at EU and member state bilateral level with Russia, even though operating now in the background. Based on this starting point, the paper asks whether Brexit will have any significant effect on the persistence of conflict and cooperation in EU-Russia relations. Brexit is seen as an event that is the source of both trauma and emancipation in EU-Russia relations. On the one hand, the trauma caused by departure of Britain deepens the EU’s identity crisis (both internally and externally). On the other hand, the EU’s presumed future weakness in world politics offers the promise of emancipation for Russia in the bilateral relationship, where Moscow’s claims of equality gain more weight and legitimacy. The article draws on the recent conceptualizations of the role of trauma and emancipation in the international relations literature, with a focus on the discursive practices of the two actors based on the analysis of official documents, speeches and interviews with policymakers.
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